Inside: How letting go of perfectionism can help you make progress in your career.
Embrace imperfection? That idea would make 16-year-old high school perfectionist me choke on my Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail.
But 18 years later, as a mom and a professional, I am on board with this strategy. And if you are struggling with perfectionism and it’s holding you back, I would love for you to join me on this train.
If nothing else, if you embrace imperfection it’s going to save you a LOT of time raking leaves.
The Leaves They Are A-Changing
Every year the leaves in my front yard pile up so high that I’m only 75% sure that we actually have grass under there.
Yet every year we watch the leaves change color and enjoy the benefits of living in beautiful New England. And every summer our house stays a few degrees cooler because we are surrounded by nature’s umbrellas. So the trees remain, and the raking continues.
The first fall in our house 7 years ago we started the raking process in October. We made big piles of leaves, catching every single one until our lawn looked like a football field, and then dragged them into the woods.
Then a week later we had to do it again. And again. Aiming for that perfect lawn as first-time homeowners.
Nice idea. Sort of. But the whole process was, in a word, foolish. And here’s why.
To Me, You Aren’t Perfect
I originally started this paragraph with “there is nothing wrong with striving for perfection…” but then promptly deleted it.
Because while there is nothing wrong with trying your best, working hard, and making your lawn look nice, there is absolutely something wrong with trying to be perfect.
The reason is simple. Perfect isn’t going to happen. Stop trying to make perfect happen!
As a major overachiever in high school, striving for perfection landed me in the hospital my senior year because of dehydration and plummeting blood pressure. Because I was trying to do so much and had convinced myself that it could only be done perfectly, I forgot to eat at school, on more than one occasion, and then passed out cold at club meetings and basketball practices.
Not a good look.
Let It Go, Elsa
Moving through college and into my young adulthood, I slowly started letting go of perfectionism.
It was still there lurking and would rear its ugly head with failed relationships, or when I didn’t get a job, and during each miscarriage, but I had a better grip on reality. Perfect was attainable in bowling maybe, but I wasn’t a great bowler, so nothing in my life was going to be perfect. That had to be fine.
Fast forward to now and what I have found most endearing about my 30s is being able to embrace imperfection wholeheartedly. It took a while to get here, and sometimes I still forget, but man… it’s so much more enjoyable to be happy with good, or great, without needing perfect.
I had been sitting with this idea for a while when on the way to work one morning I heard Amy Porterfield’s podcast interview with Brooke Castillo. Brooke laid out a success strategy that would have had 16-year-old perfectionist Becca in a heap of despair on the floor.
Shoot for B- work. Done is better than perfect.
Really? A B-?
Hold the phone, a B-?
I get it. If you are a perfectionist, a B- sounds like a gut punch and not at all what you’re going for.
But here’s what Brooke was getting at. Going for a B- does not mean you don’t care, it means that you DO care. You care enough to make something happen.
For Brooke, that meant publishing her Life Coaching e-book and finding later there were a couple of typos throughout. But if she hadn’t put that book out into the world, thousands of people wouldn’t have read her words and made meaningful changes to their lives. She wouldn’t have received email after email from people who didn’t care about the typos, but did care about the message.
Instead of holding onto the stone because it wasn’t perfectly smooth, she tossed it out into the pond and it made ripples.
Embracing an Imperfect Lawn
Back to my raking example.
When raking my lawn I could spend an entire Saturday raking and raking and raking and raking, and there will still be one more leaf on the tree that falls on Sunday. If I was shooting for perfect, then I’d be out there again the next day raking up that leaf. Then I could stack up all those leaves in perfect piles, and the wind is still going to blow one astray and I’ll be chasing it around the lawn.
Or by learning to embrace imperfection, I could do a decent job raking in November after most of the leaves have fallen, and then call it a day and spend the rest of the afternoon playing with my kids. Maybe even squeeze in some writing!
By choosing not to shoot for an A+ raking job, and instead shooting for a B-, I can achieve several goals. I get the raking done enough so my grass survives winter, I get to spend quality time with my family, and I carve out time for work I love.
Will my lawn look perfect? No. But if I had struggled towards perfection, then it never would have been done to that impossible standard. I’d still be out there raking instead of giving more of myself to my family and spending time on other important projects.
Embracing imperfection is all about putting the emphasis on where it belongs – progress and impact.
Going for a B- In Your Career
Let’s try a B- work example for your career development.
Your cover letter is an important piece of personal branding that will get you noticed by employers and open new doors. When you are putting your cover letter together, you could aim for perfection, or aim for a B-.
If you aim for perfection, you could write and rewrite and reformat that cover letter until your fingers start to bleed. You could stare at it for hours on end and always feel like there is something more you could change. Meanwhile, other applications are being submitted for that job and the deadline passes. You missed out.
If you aim for a B-, then you will work hard on that cover letter, proofread, spell check, and research. You will put together a personal branding piece that you are proud of, and then you will hit submit on that job application.
After hitting submit, you will reach out to your contact at the company and let her know you applied and are excited about the opportunity. You will get your name out there, and give yourself the opportunity to be chosen.
To Embrace Imperfection Does Not Mean Embracing Bad
Of course, I want your cover letter to be amazing! But at some point we are going to need to say this is the finished product. That finished product might very well be a total hit the ball out of the park A+ even, but you need to remember that is not your goal.
Your goal is to get the job.
So you need to use your time and energy wisely throughout the process and distribute it between the activities that will make an impact.
Shooting for B- works treats your time as a valuable resource, which it very much is! Don’t let perfect stand in the way of progress. If you do, you’ll be spinning your wheels chasing perfection instead of giving yourself a chance at success, impacting others through your words and actions, and using your time to go after the next goal.
Embrace Imperfection by Knowing When to Stop
Could I change something about this blog post to make it even better?
But if I don’t hit publish, then you might be left raking more leaves instead of making progress towards your big goals. And, well, that just won’t do, will it?